A Tornado Hits Rome: Day 3 – The Devastation

Posted on January 13th, 2012 by

Gizmo! Scuba! Noodle!!! Toblerone! Ratchet… Falafel!!! I’m Reanna and I’m a junior at Gustavus with an undying hunger to see the world. So I’m spending this semester in goreous ROME, the city of my dreams! I like to describe myself as a tart, though apparently it doesn’t mean a feisty, smart-mouthed, strong-minded young individual like I thought… it’s just a huss. I’m proud of my significant… quirkiness? I like wearing machine parts as jewelry and have a passion for science fiction, literature, film, 80’s new wave and 90’s punk, and I’ve recently realized that I’ve become the embodiment of my childhood idols, Sonic the Hedgehog and Spock. Also, I’ve been described as a tornado because of my innate quality that causes me to unintentionally destroy everything around me, causing a swirl of engulfing chaos – which should make my stay in Rome pretty entertaining.

So I’ve actually been in Rome for a few days and haven’t had time to post (oops), so just pretend that I haven’t left yet… Anyways, how amazing is it that I’m going to Rome, right? *wink wink* No really, it is AMAZING here, and after ALL that preparation and research and packing and planning and dreaming, it’s finally a reality!!! I’ve dreamed about coming to Rome for as long as I can’t remember – I plan on seeing and doing as much as humanely possible while I’m here. Of course I was nervous, having limited exposure to world travel and nothing solo, so this was going to be an entirely new adventure. I bravely booked my own flight with one hand while battling minotaurs and Medusa with the other, rescuing civilization yet again without the glory I deserve. I was nervous that the border patrol would stop me for some obscure reason and throw me in jail or ship me home, that I would get jumped and robbed as soon as I set foot on Italian soil, or that I’d get lost and sold into gypsy slavery on my first day. SLIGHT exaggeration, but there were definitely a lot of concerns for safety and solo travel, but I was confident and wise and am still alive and unharmed as of yet. I know zero Italian but am eager to learn and immerse myself in the culture. As a Classics major, I’ve been learning about and mildly obsessing about the very culture and history that I’m now surrounded with, and I have no idea where to start! That was a lie, I know exactly where to start (the beginning… yeah, that was corny, but hey, I’m new to this, so give me a break :D) So since I’m new at this, I’m just going to wing it. But yeah, I’m basically a natural disaster contained in a carbon-based lifeform, and strange and entertaining things usually happen to me unintentionally. Plus, it’s ROME, nothing is ever dull!!!

So I’d basically been planning and obsessing for months, trying to be completely prepared and have the perfect luggage full of useful and stylish things for my experience in Rome. I learned quickly that while it’s a fantastic idea to prepare yourself as much as possible, there’s only a certain amount of preparation you can start with before you just have to leave it up to trial and error. The worst part was probably the obtaining of the Italian Visa, Italy has really strict immigration and visitation procedure that require a lot of paperwork, forms, notarization, authentication, trips to cities to blow 20 bucks on a guy that stamps 2 pages and sends you on your way, stress, and several first-class express mailings. It all worked out, and after the flurry of preparation and thinking of what to pack and planning, all while focusing on my insane semester of rigorous academics, and it was DEFINITELY worth it.

After a brief break back home to pack up and say my good-bye’s (ok – it was about 3 weeks, but if felt like an afternoon at the most) January 10th arrived and my flight was leaving for Rome (after a stopover in Paris). I had gotten about 2 hours of sleep the night before, as per usual Reanna pre-departure protocol for all trips, the packing is left to the night before. I HAD everything I needed in my possession and drastically miscalculated the amount of time it would take to intricately fit everything in the suitcase, as well as the numerous re-packings and strenuous eliminations of clothing and supplies after my luggage turned out to be 10 lbs over the weight limit for my airline. I ended up sacrificing A LOT of clothes, but the ones I brought were classy and fun, work for many occasions, and are easily mixed and matched – functional as well as fashionable. Don’t worry, there’s a logical reason behind this as well: EVERY SINGLE THING I have read about Rome has stressed the danger for pickpocket and con artist targeting of Americans and foreigners in general. They strongly suggest classy-ing it up and adopting a more sophisticated and European behavior and look, for safety reasons! So I have an excuse :D You just have to constantly be on your toes and confidently know what your doing… or at least act like it.

After getting my luggage down to 49 lbs, as well as stuffing my backpack to the carry-on limit weight as well, I left for the airport, and after bidding my parents good-bye, I was off to my flight. I was a complete doofus during the initial security scan (I get all flustered and they get impatient if you don’t know what you’re doing), but everything went smoothly. I was EXHAUSTED and after my meal (some kind of veggie stew with fruit and a side salad – I pre-ordered my meal to ensure that it wasn’t something awful) and had a sleepless ‘night’ of getting nudged by the sullen lady in the window seat to my right and cursing the screaming babies (clearly a calculated attack on my peace of mind). I successfully navigated the airport in Paris to connection flights, had a tasty salad using my first Euro bill, and boarded my next flight… which I promptly passed out for most of. People on planes are the weirdest people in the world – I went on a trip to New Zealand and Australia for 3 weeks the summer after my Junior year in high school through the People to People Student Ambassadors, and I ended up getting stuck next to a portly Hawaiian lady who slammed down bourbon faster than water. This time I sat next to an older Asian man who was wore a surgical face mask for the entire flight… Germaphobe, or dedicated LARPer? Doctor Kevorkian enthusiast? Or maybe he was hiding his jaw that split open sideways revealing rows of razor-sharp teeth, predator-style. Always assume the worst.

I’d read that there are city-sanctioned taxis and private taxis, and that if you ever get approached and offered a taxi in Rome, always turn it down – get an official taxi that is safer and price-regulated from a set taxi stop. This happened to me right outside the Fiumicino Airport in Rome, and I knew to politely turn down and breeze by to the taxi station down the sidewalk. People drive like maniacs here, and all in tiny mini-coopers and compacts! There’s frequent honking and seems chaotic, but it works out. I got dropped off in front of what I thought was my campus, the John Felice Rome Center (of Loyola Chicago University) and after some stumbling through an echo-y and empty hallway, accidentally slamming a door shut with my overstuffed backpack, and bursting in on a kind Italian nun, she explained to me that the school was actually next door and that I was in a church or convent of some sort! She was the sweetest and wished me good luck, like most of the Italian people I’ve met – really warm and welcoming. Good thing I gave up on getting embarrassed years ago – it makes life a lot more bearable.

I made it to campus, which is BEAUTIFUL – very quaint and picturesque, the courtyard out front is filled with trees and ivy and a gazebo, and the building is old and full character. There are twists and turns and surprises around every corner! The school is contained entirely in this one distinctive building, which at least makes my life a bit easier. The rooms are pretty small, and there is no internet except for in the library, classrooms, and designated computer labs, so that was a shock to get used to. Skyping family and friends in front of other people is awkward, but I’ll just have to get used to it, as well as my internet withdrawal. There are benefits too, like being forced to spend your time on other things and less in your room. My roommate is really calm and easy to get along with, but I was a bit worried at first because it seemed like everyone already had all these friends from their colleges – I think I’m the only one from Minnesota and the surrounding states in this program! Though once I got over the awkwardness, it’s pretty great talking to new people with a different mindset than the people I’ve always been around. I feel like a lot of the people are more open-minded and interested in experiencing new things, though it could be a biased sample since not many people who aren’t into those things would study abroad in Rome (or anywhere, for that matter).

I was less worried about making friends (really, I have Rome as my friend, so what else do I need?) but more interest in the safety aspect – it’s probably not TOO wise as a younger female to spend a lot of time alone in Rome, so I wanted to find safety in numbers. It’s kind of hard to find people my age that share the same disdain for stereotypical binge-drinking and mindless partying. I came here to satisfy my thirst for history, culture, and the city of Rome, not bars and beers and… ‘insert a similar b-word here’. Too tired to finish my own alliteration :D But after bravely setting out, talking to many new people, and inviting myself to set with others at meals, I made a few friends and acquaintances that I enjoy talking to and would love to travel with. I’m definitely not one for drinking (no taste for alcohol or the obnoxious behavior that it incites in many of my peers) but the drinking culture is so different here. The Italians are responsible and in control of themselves at all times, never drink to get smashed and black out, and they do it purely to enhance their meals or add to a social situation. Never to excess and always smart – I definitely appreciate and admire that attitude. Another shock – nothing seems to be a big deal in Rome. The city is ancient and a little worn and crumbly, chaotic, and nothing works quite right or is remotely efficient, but you just don’t care about that. The taxis are on strike sometimes, you step in dog poo (no regulated laws for poo-scooping), and you almost get hit by a maniac on a moped. But Rome clears out all fuss about trivial things – the sheer magnitude and magnanimity of the Eternal City creates this wonderful care-free attitude. So what if your shower is microscopic, you got lost downtown again, you have to fill out MORE paper work (because the entire forest’s worth of trees you’ve already destroyed is still not enough!), or you’re suffering from slight cereal-withdrawal? Look up and there’s the Trevi Fountain! The Colosseum!! The Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, The Vatican, a scruffy stray dog, or the Roman Forum!!! I’ve completely adopted this carefree attitude and am loving it :D I even tried Italian coffee, which is MUCH better than the vile acid we call coffee in America, and my first gelato was delicious! Breaking out of my comfort zone is disconcerting at first, but I’m loving this place more and more every second I’m here. I’ve made radical strides within the last 2 or 3 days I’ve been here alone in my understanding of the city and Italian life, and I can’t wait to grow in my understanding over the next 3.5 months. The program has kept us very busy with meetings, workshops, and activities to acquaint ourselves with the beautiful city.  I’ve already seen the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, had my first Gelato, had an extensive Italian meal at a cute little restaurant, chatted in remedial Italian with shopkeepers, and walked until my feet have ached for several days in a row. It’s amazing how much America is car-reliant, no wonder we have struggles with obesity! THAT and the McDonald’s doesn’t exactly help. I am picking up Italian through experience, getting out to acquaint myself with the neighborhood and shops, visiting monuments and historical pinnacles of Roman legend, as well as attempting to improve my DREADFUL navigational skills. I will master you, Rome – you heard me!!! Oh, and if Rome starts answering back to me, that’s your cue to notify the nice physicians with the comfy white straight-jacket :D

-Reanna “Kraken-tamer” Phillips


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